Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Prevention Rather Than Cure? Primary or Secondary Intervention for Dealing with Media Exposure to Terrorism

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Prevention Rather Than Cure? Primary or Secondary Intervention for Dealing with Media Exposure to Terrorism

Article excerpt

The issue of treatment choice is particularly contentious in the case of unusual and sparsely studied types of trauma. One such case is media exposure to terrorism, which has recently been found to constitute a significant stressor (Cho et al., 2003). The primary goal of terrorism is the creation of fear and intimidation. To this end, the media is frequently exploited as a conduit to produce indirect victimization. Although indirect victimization from media exposure to terrorism can be significantly severe, this domain has generally been neglected by traditional targets of therapy that tend to focus on direct and symptomatic victims (Milgram, 1993).

Modern warfare and technological advances in media distribution have increased both the numbers and the severity of symptoms of indirect victims of terrorism (Golan & Shai, 2004). Concomitantly, the dilemma of constructing appropriate treatment protocols for this unique population has intensified. Treatment concerns involve similar dilemmas regarding coping with trauma in general, including choice of therapy, identification of risk sectors, and intervention timing. Choices relating to intervention timing include prioritizing primary prevention antecedent to trauma or secondary intervention subsequent to trauma (Caplan, 1964; Cowen, 1982). Our laboratory study examined different therapy regimes for coping with the effects of exposure to media coverage of terrorism. The study tested the efficacy in moderating the emotional effects of state anxiety and state anger of intervention offered either as antecedent primary prevention or as secondary intervention subsequent to exposure to media coverage of terrorism. The therapeutic intervention was based on a cognitive-behavioral approach and involved enhancing awareness of ways in which thoughts moderate affect, imparting strategies for controlling thoughts, and increasing sense of mastery. The comparison condition was engagement in a neutral task.

* Media Coverage of Terrorism as a Source of Trauma

Modern warfare has transformed from secluded wars to low intensive conflicts, which are defined as protracted hostilities between nations and non-nation factions that defy reconciliation but cannot be classified as full-scale war (Golan & Shai, 2004). Terrorism is a major category of low intensive conflict that is characterized by its basic intent of destroying extant civic, economic, and community structures (Higson-Smith & Killian, 2000). Spurred by rapid progress in capability, terrorism mobilizes the media to heighten awareness of threat among target audiences, far beyond the power of singular attacks to do so. Graphic presentation of conflict in real time in every home has been effective in influencing viewers' emotions and attitudes, closing the gap between viewers and conflict events, and increasing personal engagement (Schleifer, 2006). In this way, large populations who have not been direct victims of terrorism can become victims-by-proxy by carrying psychological effects derived from personal association and identification with what is experienced in the media.

Findings of several studies have indicated links between terrorism and the negative effects of its media coverage, including major depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (Ofman, Mastria, & Steinberg, 1995) and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (Pferfferbaum et al., 2000). Extended media exposure to the September 11th World Trade Center terrorist attacks produced intractable high levels of anxiety, anger, depression, and insecurity (Cho et al., 2003) and PTSD symptoms such as nightmares and hyperarousal (Lawyer et al., 2006). However, retrospective findings cannot establish a causal relation between viewing traumatic media images and subsequent development of symptoms. Studies have indicated a general dose-effect relation between degree of exposure and presence of symptoms, although this relation appears to be complex. …

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